Your friends are in school now. Did you know that? Three-year-old preschool has begun. They wear their new backpacks and tennis shoes and spend a few hours learning their colors and shapes. Some of them cling to their parents' sides and others race ahead, not wanting to wait another second to start their school day. And I get to watch all of it. I get a front row seat to what will never happen.
Sometimes I imagine the things I'd be doing during your school hours if you were still here with me. I assume I would have had that same look of mixed emotion about letting you go that first day. I'm sure I would have mentioned that you were growing up too fast. But, now when I hear that from others, my immediate thought is that it beats the hell out of the alternative. I don't think anyone actually wants that "forever baby" that they think they do. I have one and it doesn't mean what they think it would mean. It doesn't mean that you get to keep all of the wonderful parts of infancy and complete dependence. Instead it's a never-ending list of "never get to" moments. I didn't get to see your little face looking back at me as you joined your friends for a day of playing and learning. I didn't get to laugh at your silly choice of backpack. I didn't ever utter the words, "he's growing up too fast" or "what will I do with two hours to myself?!" Those things didn't happen, and they won't. But why?...
Your "class" is made up of all of those babies we used to see waiting for siblings to get out of school. They're still here. They grew up. Why didn't you? I know some will throw out the name of a disease at this point, but that isn't a sufficient answer for me. I need to know why I won't be getting a puzzle piece picture frame of a curly-haired little boy. I want to know why my fingers won't stick together as I try to separate 3-year-old works of art. I have to know why the moms around me get to do these things we all imagined were inevitable and I don't. Why? Didn't I want it too? Didn't I complain about the same stupid things they did?
I still pause several times daily and marvel at the fact that you're not here. A stoplight can cause a violent burst of fresh tears as I realize the silence of my empty car is now supposed to be the norm. A momentary lapse of memory can leave me curled in the fetal position for an entire day when I accidentally turn your favorite show on, but then can't find you smiling up at me from your Elmo chair. And seeing those babies run to their mommies after preschool will inevitably take me to my knees.
I don't know how we got here, you and I, to this place of seeing each other only through signs and dreams. I suppose I was given what everyone else claims to wish for, right? I have a "forever baby." Well, I have a new wish and it doesn't involve you being frozen in time. I know I'll never see an updated picture of you. I'll never clean the glue off your fingers after a day of popsicle stick art. We'll never sing "Wheels On The Bus" as I drive you home from school. But, if you could, allow me to sleep long enough to dream of your beautiful three-year-old self. Please give me at least the illusion of my curly-headed monster running through the school parking lot to be wrapped up in a hug. Let me feel your arms circle my neck and squeeze the pain away. Let me get lost in one sweet moment of a promised future, a growing boy, and no sign of that coveted forever baby.